TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Eighty-five people have been arrested after authorities dismantled an international drug-trafficking ring operating out of Winter Haven.

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office said the investigation began in Sept. 2020. Around the same time, deputies said one of the suspects, Demarcus Terrell Jefferson, crashed his vehicle into a gas station and killed a person inside. While investigating the crash, authorities got word that Jefferson and some of his family members had helped smuggle large amounts of methamphetamine through airports in checked luggage.

Undercover detectives made multiple drug purchases at his home and learned that one of his brothers had died of a fentanyl and Xanax overdose at the residence.

“Drugs continued to be sold by family members after his death,” the sheriff’s office said.

Sheriff Grady Judd said detectives continued making undercover narcotics purchases from dealers in the Winter Haven area and began working with local, state and federal agencies across the country.

In Feb. 2020, they received authorization to conduct a wiretap investigation that allowed them to monitor the activity of suspects in the ring. While intercepting a call, Judd said detectives heard chatter about a homicide that occurred in Winter Haven, which is still under investigation.

Investigators said the ring smuggled large amounts of narcotics from Mexico into Los Angeles and then transported the drugs via flights from Memphis, Tennessee to Orlando, Florida. The drugs were then taken to Polk County by ground.

Judd said that on one occasion they were able to smuggle six suitcases containing drugs on a flight from Los Angeles to Orlando.

“They didn’t as so much as throw a pair or underwear in the suitcase to act like they were hiding the drugs,” Judd said. “You think LAX has got a drug smuggling problem at the airport? I believe that they do, and they need to address it ASAP.”

In another instance, 94 pounds of meth and 48 pounds of cannabis were smuggled into Florida on a flight, Judd said.

“There needs to be a deep dive into the baggage handlers, and to see where the hookup was, to allow suitcase after suitcase after suitcase to get through the scanning with no clothes inside, no evidence of clothes inside. Just drugs,” the sheriff said.

News Channel 8 reached out to LAX for comment. An airport spokesperson told us he couldn’t speak on any active investigations and said to direct our questions to the Transportation Security Administration.

Detectives served 14 search warrants in Auburndale, Davenport, Polk City, Lake Wales, Winter Haven, and Riverview, as well as in Fresno, California and seized the following drugs and items:

  • 268 pounds of Meth / 112,563 grams ($9,725,040 street value)
  • 31 pounds of Cocaine / 14,055.17 grams ($1,405,337 street value)
  • 180 pounds of Cannabis / 81,417.89 grams ($1,628,357 street value)
  • 3.4 pounds of MDMA (Ecstasy) / 1,692.02 grams ($84,601 street value)
  • 6.8 ounces of fentanyl / 192.77 grams ($26,880 street value)
  • 68 Alprazolam (Xanax) pills
  • 173 Oxycodone pills
  • 49 firearms
  • 3 non-active grenades
  • 2 bulletproof vests
  • 1 stolen motorcycle
  • $235,000 cash

The total street value of the drugs is more than $12.8 Million.

Judd said the amount of fentanyl seized could have killed up to 96,000 people.

The sheriff’s office said 85 suspects were arrested and charged with a 355 felonies and 93 misdemeanors. Their criminal histories include 690 previous felonies, 712 previous misdemeanors, and 194 felony convictions.

The more notable suspects included Dwayne Kenneth Stackhouse and Lenard Henderson, two large-scale cocaine suppliers, and Abadosh McKenzie, a counterfeit fentanyl pill supplier.

Another suspect, Javarius Samuel, had traveled back and forth from California to Florida. At his Fresno home, detectives found 68 pounds of marijuana, 109 grams of fentanyl, 14 grams of cocaine, three firearms and $45,000. At his Florida residence, they seized two loaded black AK-47 pistols, “which were out in plain view and in a home with six children,” the sheriff’s office said.

One suspect, Vicente Carranza-Basanta, told detectives that he was in Lake Wales while seeking political asylum from Venezuela. Judd said detectives had arranged to purchase a kilogram of cocaine from Vincente, and he gave them 1,012 grams zipped inside a black leather Bible cover. He was arrested and charged with trafficking in cocaine, conspiracy to traffic in cocaine, possession of a vehicle for drug trafficking and possession of drug paraphernalia.

In April 2021, detectives in Winter Haven arranged to meet Jefferson’s brother, Antonio Deandre Jefferson, to buy drugs. They arrested Antonio and seized 168.45 grams of meth, a pound of marijuana and a handgun from his vehicle. Authorities said he continued to traffic large amounts of meth while out on bond and wearing an ankle monitor. He was arrested again in August for trafficking in meth, among other charges.

Deputies said another suspect, Cley Bryan, was busted after two minors stole his vehicle, which had drugs in it. The juveniles wanted to sell the drugs and split the profits with a friend. When detectives investigating the theft interviewed Bryan, they found 24 pounds of meth in his home. Bryan was arrested for trafficking in meth, possessing a vehicle for drug trafficking, and possession of paraphernalia. Two of the juveniles were charged with grand theft auto, and all three were all charged with possession of meth, according to the sheriff’s office.

Officials issued warrants for three other suspects. They were identified as Jesus Barragan-Torres of Sanger, California, Darrion Jacob of Winter Haven and Amanda Paige Wittke of Polk City.